Starry, starry nights
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Meteors shower your family with free entertainment :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::photo courtesy of Craig Stillwell Watching a meteor shower requires nothing more than a clear view of the night sky.
Looking for a summer family activity that's fun, educational, guaranteed not to interfere with T-ball, swimming or camp, and best of all, is free? Then grab the kids, some bug spray and a blanket and head to the hinterlands for a little celestial entertainment as the annual Perseid Meteor Shower lights up the August sky.
Every year in mid-August, the earth passes through a cloud of debris left behind by a comet many years ago. These tiny bits of rock and dust burn up as they enter the earth's atmosphere, creating visible trails of light in the night sky.
These meteors-commonly, but incorrectly, called "shooting stars"-can be seen in any part of the sky and are best viewed without telescopes or binoculars. This makes watching the Perseids an easy way to introduce children to the wonders of the sky, says Bart Benjamin, director of the Cernan Earth and Space Center in River Grove.
Benjamin cautions that it's not really a "shower;" an average of one meteor per minute is most likely. Although younger children may not have the patience to search for the meteors, there is plenty to look at in the night sky even when the meteors aren't showering. The novelty of lying outside under the stars in the middle of the night may be entertaining enough for some.
This year's Perseids will peak during the early morning hours of Aug. 12, between midnight and 2 a.m. For the best view, choose a dark area, away from city lights, recommends Michelle Nichols, senior educator at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. So don't head to the Planetarium or the Cernan Center. They're too close to the city.
"Any place will do, as long as the location is dark," says Nichols.
Just lie flat on the ground and try to view as wide an area of the sky as possible.
This year's Perseid shower promises to be especially good, since there will be a new moon, and the sky will be especially dark. Benjamin suggests scheduling a family camping trip.
The Adler Planetarium and Cernan Center have educational displays with general information about comets and meteors. For more information, visit www.triton.cc.il.us/cernan/cernan_home.html, or www.adlerplanetarium.org as well as your local library.